BTE goes on a grand adventure

Catherine rose, Contributing Writer

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In a man’s world, women must break through walls in order to level the playing field.  For the few who travel it, it’s a grueling yet rewarding journey.
That’s precisely what character Phyllida Spotte-Hume does in “The Explorers Club.”  And at the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, that concept of breaking social barriers goes beyond the production itself.

“The Explorers Club” is the work of Nell Benjamin and is set in London in 1879.  A pompous all-men’s club considers admitting their first female member, Phyllida Spotte-Hume, into their group. What ensues is an absurdly whimsical presentation of science, exploration, sexism and changing times.   

 BTE celebrated a rewarding opening weekend on Thursday, Sep. 13 through Sunday, Sep. 16. The shows that ran during this time frame were “pay what you decide” nights. This means that audience members had the opportunity to view the performance before deciding how much money to pay.
After the first weekend, cast member Eric Wunsch said that they enjoyed a good first weekend. He commented that it’s “always interesting to see how it goes.”

Wunsch plays Harry Percy, a hilarious character who just returned from a long expedition to the East Pole. Wunsch says it’s been a long time since he’s played a role “anything like Percy’s,” adding that he loves how “overly confident and brazen and bombastic” he is.

Harry Percy is extremely confident and doesn’t care what people think. There is “something liberating” about him being treated as an idiot rather than a hero, as most similar characters in other works are treated, says Wunsch.  

He also said that “The Explorers Club” is different than he imagined it when he first read the script. In fact, he thought he would play Professor Cope. He adds that he loves the way Elizabeth Dowd is doing it. The character makes fun of gentleman dandy; instead of being seen as sophisticated, he is portrayed as a weird idiot.  Wunsch especially likes Dowd’s portrayal of Professor Cope because she has a “way of being able to make things hilariously kind of gross” which makes it “delightful to see her as that character.”

Brandon Ferguson, a Bloomsburg University student who saw the production, says what most surprised him about the show was “how each actor’s character was fully explored throughout the show and the choreography/blocking was very well done and cool throughout the show.”  

A unique feature of BTE’s production is that two women in their sixties play men. It was Laurie McCants’ idea.  She thought the humor would sit better if she and Elizabeth played men.

One of McCants’ lines, as Professor Walling, is “I’m just enjoying being part of the discussion—we’re being very manly!” Having a woman portray that role makes the line even funnier, and adds to the theme of breaking the glass ceiling.  

“It talks a lot about certain topics that are still going on in today’s society,” Ferguson observed.  Women’s rights is not the only issue this play tackles.  It also discusses science vs. religion, imperialism, and other social and political issues.

The Explorers Club appeals to all mature ages.  Its humor is like that of Monty Python and is a satirical kind of British comedy. While Wunsch remarks that some plays the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble does require other knowledge, “this is a play for people who want to see something real stupid.” The message, he says, is not at the forefront of the play; it’s more about poking fun in this witty Victorian spoof.

The Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble is located at the Alvina Krause Theatre downtown at 226 Center Street. Directed by Leigh Strimbeck, The Explorers Club runs through Oct. 7.

Show times are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 3:00 p.m. on Sundays.  BU Student tickets are only $10 with valid ID. For more information, visit BTE’s webpage.